Prasanna Krishnan on being a mom in tech and working on a Bill Gates dream project - Technical.ly Philly

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Mar. 18, 2014 12:30 pm

Prasanna Krishnan on being a mom in tech and working on a Bill Gates dream project

"I'd love to see more women in founding startup roles," she said, adding that she thinks it's happening, albeit slowly. Women need to see other women in these roles, she said. That helps the momentum.

Prasanna Krishnan always had the itch to be a founder.

She spent some time in the venture capital world, as an associate at DFJ Ventures in Silicon Valley. She worked at big tech companies like Comcast and startups like travel deals site Jetsetter but she always wanted to go off her own.

The time was finally right last summer, when she launched her own startup, SmartyPAL. It’s a series of children’s iPad books. Krishnan also launched a “collaborative scrapbook” mobile app called Veyobox but said she plans to focus on SmartyPAL due to the traction it’s seen.

Krishnan, 34, lives in Society Hill with her husband, Wharton professor and angel investor Kartik Hosanagar, and their 3-year-old son, Aarav.

She believes the best way to get more women in tech is to lead by example.

“I’d love to see more women in founding startup roles,” she said, adding that she thinks it’s happening, albeit slowly. Women need to see other women in these roles, she said. That helps the momentum.

Below, find highlights of our conversation, including what it’s like to be a mom in tech and her part in one of Bill Gates’ dream projects that never made it to market.

Where she grew up: In the Indian cities of Kochi, Mumbai, Coimbatore

Education: Birla Institute of Technology & Science in Pilani, India; Masters in Computer Science at University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, named a Siebel Scholar in 2001; Wharton MBA

Pedigree: Microsoft, DFJ Ventures, McKinsey and Company, Comcast, Jetsetter

Now: SmartyPAL, a suite of mobile apps

On her early days as a woman in tech: When Krishnan was 19, she interned at Mumbai’s Bhabha Atomic Research Center. She was one of two women who worked in the robotics division. The only women’s bathroom was in the administrative building, so Krishan had to “walk past three nuclear reactors” to get to the bathroom from the lab in which she worked.

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On moving to the U.S.: “In India, most of the work wasn’t cutting edge technology. You weren’t part of the action [if you were working in tech in India].”

Being part of a Bill Gates’ dream project: In the mid-2000s, Krishnan worked as a program manager at Microsoft for WinFS, a storage system for Windows PCs that never make it to market. In Gates’s Reddit AMA, he said it was the one product he wished Microsoft had launched.

On moving to the West Coast to join DFJ Ventures: When Krishan was at Wharton, “there was not much early stage investment on the East Coast.” She interned at Radnor-based venture capital firm Internet Capital Group but wanted to do early stage. At DFJ, she focused on education and cloud computing.

Advice for women and mothers in tech? Find a supportive partner. “[Kartik] always shuttled around the country for me,” Krishan said, whether it was taking a sabbatical and moving to New York City so she could take a job at Jetsetter or visiting her on the West Coast while she was at DFJ.

On being a mother in tech: When it comes to being a woman in tech, Krishnan said she hasn’t felt that different from other people in the startup world, but one instance when the differences come out is motherhood. “At Jetsetter, among execs, I was the only one married with a kid. What’s hard is the logistics, like there’s no designated room to pump [breast] milk. You have to get creative. That’s when you feel different [from others].” Still, she said, the tech industry is more understanding to women than the investment banking industry.

On working at a startup while pregnant: “You have to be a little crazy,” Krishan said. “They told me I was crazy for joining Jetsetter when I was pregnant.” She didn’t let it stop her: “I was busy sending emails to a new hire when I was about to go into labor.”

On being married to a fellow entrepreneur: “He’s also interested in startups, so it’s good and bad: we talk about work all the time.”

On staying in Philly: “We’re not in a hurry to move because Kartik has seen the success of companies like RJMetrics here.” (Hosanagar is an angel investor in RJMetrics.) It’s proof that tech companies can succeed here, she said. She also listed the usual reasons, like lower cost of living, affordable office space and a rich talent pool.

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